21/10/01 6 p.m. Trinity 19/Proper 24 Year C : Gen.32:22-31; Luke 18:1-8
When I was about thirteen I went camping for the first time with a group from our church in Norwich. We had to take turns in doing everything from cooking to emptying the toilets. Actually, calling them toilets may be a little too grand ! When I was on the cooking rota I had to prepare some custard for the first time in my life. I really made a mess of it for it consisted of lumps of congealed custard powder floating in pale yellow water. Today my custard making is a lot better. Not because I am much more practiced at it, but because I use Instant Custard where you just add water.
We live in an Instant World. We also have instant coffee, instant gambling with Scratch Cards, instant cooking in microwaves, instant post via e-mail, and so on. The idea of having to wait for something, especially if this involves us in hard work, is alien to our culture. But God lives in eternity and is more patient than we are. Both our readings today are about people who persisted.
Jacob had lived his life in conflict with people. He had grasped his twin brother Esau's heel when they were born. His name meant 'deceiver' and he deceived Esau and their father Isaac to receive Isaac's blessing. Esau was so angry he threatened to kill Jacob who fled and was involved in a confrontation with his father-in-law, Laban. During this God told Jacob to return to his homeland and to Esau. Jacob was, understandably worried. Years had passed since he had fled for his life and he had no idea how he would be received. He split his party into two in case Esau attacked. He prepared a lavish gift of hundreds of goats and sheep, camels, cattle and donkeys which he sent ahead to appease his brother.
In verses 22f of today's reading we see how Jacob sent his family and possessions safely ahead so he could be alone. In verses 9 -12 Jacob had prayed acknowledging his own unworthiness, God's generosity, and asking to be saved from Esau. Now, whilst he was alone and probably feeling weak and inadequate, God came to him. It is often when people feel like this that they draw closer to God. Bereavement, unemployment, and illness are the type of events that lead some people to seek God.
With Jacob it is God who takes the initiative. God had to break Jacob's pride and stubbornness. We read of Jacob's perseverance, wrestling with God all night. His persistence is mirrored in the gospel reading by the widow who continued to hound the unjust judge. We see the power of God as he dislocates Jacob's hip. There is also the grace, or undeserved favour of God who is many more times powerful than any human being and voluntarily restricts his power as he contended with Jacob.
Once his hip is dislocated Jacob hangs on, perhaps like a boxer who has taken some heavy punches and clings on to his opponent so he can regain his strength.
26 Then the man said, "Let me go, for it is daybreak." We know from the Bible that no-one can see God and live. Perhaps this is why God asked Jacob to let him go.
But Jacob replied, "I will not let you go unless you bless me."
Whilst Jacob has realized that God had been active in his life, Jacob had always done things in his own strength. For example, the confrontation with Esau and his difficulties with Laban. He had deceived his father to obtain a blessing, now he is asking for God's blessing.
27 The man asked him, "What is your name?" "Jacob," he answered. 28 Then the man said, "Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome." Our surnames may tell us what our ancestors did. A Cooper made barrels. A Smith worked metals. First names have meanings. Roy means 'red'. James is the same as Jacob, meaning 'deceiver'. David means 'beloved'. Nora means 'honourable'. Ethel 'noble'. Sylvia means 'living in the woods'.
In earlier times your name told you something about you. Jacob had been a deceiver but he makes a new start with God and gets a new name, Israel. This means 'he struggles with God'. This signifies a new start in his life.
When I was at Secondary school there was an occasion when a pupil was rude to someone who reported this to the school. However, the offender was unable to punished because they didn't know his name. Without the name the school had no power.
29 Jacob said, "Please tell me your name." But he replied, "Why do you ask my name?" Then he blessed him there.
Jacob asked God his name. In this culture, if you disclosed your name to someone who wished you ill it was considered that they had power over you. Also, there is no name that does justice to God. So God asks him why he needs to know.
Jacob faced the new day as a new person. He had a new name, Israel to remind him that he had struggled with man and God and had overcome. He had a limp, to remind him of his encounter with God and of his brokenness. He had received God's undeserved blessing without any deceit, by being himself, not pretending to be someone else. Of course, God had been blessing him throughout his life. God had promised him and his many descendants land in accordance with the covenant he had made to Abraham and Isaac ( 28:13ff ). Jacob's family increased and so did his flocks, even though Laban tried to cheat him.
We have a God who loves to provide for his children. God chose Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He has chosen people throughout history. Luke 18:7 refers to this, 'and will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night ? Will he keep putting them off ? I tell you, he will see that they get justice and quickly.' The unjust judge said literally that the widow gave him a cut, which one commentator likened to a black eye. This would result in ridicule or dishonour, so the unjust judge settles her case to avoid this. The implication is that God will answer prayers rather than let his name be dishonoured. Unlike the unjust judge he wants to hear our prayers again and again. One of the reasons that he want this is so that we will rely upon him and not on our own strength, wealth, or abilities.
This was brought home to me recently when I read this daily devotion on October 11th...
"Let us lift up our heart with our hands unto God in the heavens." Lamentations. 3:41
"The act of prayer teaches us our unworthiness, which is a very salutary lesson for such proud beings as we are. If God gave us favours without constraining us to pray for them we should never know how poor we are, but a true prayer is an inventory of wants, a catalogue of necessities, a revelation of hidden poverty. While it is an application to divine wealth, it is a confession of human emptiness. The most healthy state of a Christian is to be always empty in self and constantly depending upon the Lord for supplies; to be always poor in self and rich in Jesus; weak as water personally, but mighty through God to do great exploits; and hence the use of prayer, because, while it adores God, it lays the creature where it should be, in the very dust. Prayer is in itself, apart from the answer which it brings, a great benefit to the Christian. As the runner gains strength for the race by daily exercise, so for the great race of life we acquire energy by the hallowed labour of prayer. Prayer plumes the wings of God's young eaglets, that they may learn to mount above the clouds. Prayer girds the loins of God's warriors, and sends them forth to combat with their sinews braced and their muscles firm. An earnest pleader comes out of his closet, even as the sun arises from the chambers of the east, rejoicing like a strong man to run his race. Prayer is that uplifted hand of Moses which routs the Amalekites more than the sword of Joshua; it is the arrow shot from the chamber of the prophet foreboding defeat to the Syrians. Prayer girds human weakness with divine strength, turns human folly into heavenly wisdom, and gives to troubled mortals the peace of God. We know not what prayer cannot do! We thank Thee, great God, for the mercy-seat, a choice proof of Thy marvellous lovingkindness. Help us to use it aright throughout this day!" ( This is from 'Morning and Evening devotions' a very small part of the excellent, free Bible study software available from www.e-sword.net )
God will give justice to his beloved children, although he will not always give them what they want when they want, because he knows best.
Before today's gospel reading Jesus had been talking about the end of the world. At the end of this passage he returns to this theme. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith ion the earth ? ' He was saying that there may be few true believers who wait for God with patient trust.
A courtier once asked Alexander the Great for some financial aid. The great leader told him to go to his treasurer and ask for whatever he wanted. A little later, the treasurer appeared and told Alexander the man had asked for a large sum and that he hesitated to pay out so much. "Give him what he asks for," replied the great conqueror. "He has treated me like a king in his asking, and I shall be like a king in my giving." ( from e-sword 2000+ Bible illustrations )
We need to realize that our God has unlimited resources and power. This does not mean that we can demand anything. But it does mean that we can humbly approach him knowing that he can do much more than we can ask or imagine ( Ephesians 3:20 ).
We should not pray for an easy life, to have everything in an instant, on a plate, to be delivered from troubles. We should ask God give us the strength that we need to face life. To use those troubles to build us up in our faith, to make us more like Jesus.
Immediately after his encounter with God Jacob had to meet Esau. He faced him a changed man. Limping, with a new name and with God's blessing. He experienced a blessing the next morning as the brothers wept, embraced and were kind to one another.
A man dreamed that he was traveling and he came to a little church. On the roof was a devil fast asleep. He went along farther and came to a log cabin which was surrounded by devils all wide awake. He asked one of them what it meant. Said the devil, "I will tell you. The fact is that the whole church is asleep, and one devil can take care of all the people; but here are a man and a woman who commune with God in prayer, and they have more power than the whole church." ( from e-sword 2000+ Bible illustrations )
Pray that we be those who will be found to be faithful when Jesus returns. Let us redouble our efforts to devote time to pray persistently.
Prayer : Lord, I confess before You that:
I have had longings and nudges from You which I did not translate into action.
I have made decisions without consulting You, then have blamed You when things went wrong.
I have said that I trusted You, yet have not turned my affairs over to You.
I have been greedy for present delights and pleasures, unwilling to wait for those joys which time and discipline alone can give.
I have often sought the easy way and have consistently drawn back from the road that is hard.
I have been fond of giving myself to dreams of which I am going to do sometime, yet have been so slow in getting started to do them.
Forgive me for all the intentions that were born and somehow never lived.
And now I claim Your promise to change me. Do for me what I cannot do for myself. Lead me into a new tomorrow with a new spirit. Cleanse my heart; create within me new attitudes and new ideas, as only You can. Amen. ( from e-sword 2000+ Bible illustrations )